The new diesel-ran Volkswagen Passat TDI produces 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.

The new diesel-powered TDI produces 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, and gets 43 miles per gallon on the highway.

The Volkswagen Group, parent company of a host of automakers including Volkswagen and Audi, is one of the world’s leaders in diesel passenger-car technology and in recent years has really stepped up its game.

In Europe, diesels have been popular for decades because of their frugality with fuel, an important factor given the expense of filling up a car in Europe. In Germany, for example, gas is now about $8 a gallon, more than double what it costs in most U.S. markets.

Little wonder, then, that European automakers have raised the bar so high on diesel vehicles. It wasn’t that long ago that diesels were slow, noisy and smelled bad to boot.

Not anymore.

Today’s diesels are light-years ahead of what they used to be, as we found out after spending a week with the value-conscious Volkswagen Passat TDI.

The Passat, a mid-priced sedan with a base price of $26,675, gets 43 miles per gallon on the highway and has a highway range of 795 miles on a tank of gas. The 2.0-liter VW TDI engine produces 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque.

Right now, Volkswagen is offering an attractive promotion on its TDI diesel models: 0.9 percent financing for 60 months, along with a $1,000 fuel rewards card, which if my math is correct, should be good to purchase enough clean diesel fuel to go more than 10,000 miles. That’s impressive, and so is the Passat itself.

The Passat was redesigned in 2012, with the model sold in the United States specifically tailored to the North American market. In its first year, the 2012 Passat was named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, and with good reason: It’s an excellent combination of size and value, with ample room for up to five occupants and a ton of stuff in the trunk.

J.D Power named the Passat “Highest Ranked Vehicle Appeal Among Mid-Sized , Two Years In A Row.” The Passat also captured the “2013 Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com A Best Family Car” award and more importantly earned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 5-Star Overall Rating.

In its price and size class, the Passat goes head-to-head with some incredibly strong opposition, including the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima, among the many heavyweight midsize offerings.

Compared to its rivals, the Passat has mostly pros and a few cons. The pros are its interior and trunk space, safety and, of course, fuel mileage.

In one week of use, I actually got an honest-to-goodness average of 43 miles per gallon in the Passat TDI, which is a fairly remarkable figure for a car that can hold this much. And despite the modest horsepower rating, the TDI engine has ample torque to propel the car forward. At no point did the Passat TDI feel slow or underpowered.

The interior is more geared towards practicality than all out luxury. The seats are comfortable and as noted, there is lots of head and legroom in both the front and back seats. The Passat’s interior definitely doesn’t feel cheap, but neither does it feel quite as rich as some of its competitors. That said, the build quality is excellent and the comfort level high.

The negatives? Well, the styling is kind of generic mid-sized and overall, the car didn’t feel quite as sporty as earlier generations of Passats did – my wife called it “soft” in the way that an Impala or Ford Taurus might be. Then again, this model is specific to North America and designed to appeal to more American tastes. Fair enough.

Still, all things considered, the Passat TDI is a tremendous value and an  excellent choice in a crowded, competitive segment. The fact that I could drive it from Charlotte to either Chicago or Fort Lauderdale on a single tank of gas makes it even more appealing.

And if diesel fuel prices in the United States ever start coming down, Volkswagen will sell a ton of diesels.

VEHICLE TYPE: Five-passenger, four-door sedan, front-wheel drive.

ENGINE: 2.0-liter four cylinder diesel, 140 horsepower 236 pound-feet of torque.

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic.

WHEELBASE: 110.4 inches.

OVERALL LENGTH: 191.6 inches.

CURB WEIGHT: 3,494 pounds.

EPA MILEAGE RATING: 31 city, 43 highway.

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